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Reducing Caregiver Stress

  • Tips for Family Caregivers

  • It’s easy to neglect your own health, particularly if you’re busy caring for a loved one. But that’s when it’s especially important to take care of yourself!

    “It’s essential that caregivers maintain good mental and physical health,” says Renee Morgan, medical social worker at Memorial Hospital Los Banos. “Those who don’t run the risk of developing poor health and stress-related symptoms like depression and insomnia, as well as feelings of being overwhelmed, isolated and alone. Caregivers who neglect their own health are also more likely to suffer burnout and feelings of anger, resentment, guilt, helplessness and grief.”

    Early in their adult lives, women in our society focus on caring for their children, but the health of others is also a concern later in life, whether it involves providing short-term assistance for a family member who’s recovering from surgery or long-term care for a loved one who’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness or Alzheimer’s disease. Caregiving can include a range of chores such as medication management, bathing, feeding, clothing and arranging health care services.

    Nearly 23 million American households are currently home to a caregiver, most often a woman caring for someone age 50 or older. An estimated 43 percent of these caregivers are over 50 themselves.

    According to recent studies, caregivers appear to have a higher risk of a number of mental and physical illnesses, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, anxiety and depression. Research also indicates that caregivers have higher blood levels of a chemical that is linked to chronic inflammation, and these levels remain high three years after caregiving duties end, especially among caregivers over 65.

    “Caregivers who take care of themselves reap the benefits of better physical and emotional health and improved attitudes, resourcefulness and patience,” says Morgan. “They’re also able to provide better care to their loved ones.”

    If you accept the role of caregiver to a family member, be aware that caregiving can change the family dynamics, causing household disruptions and financial pressure.

    “Caregiving can be physically demanding and involve a lot of lifting, pulling and pushing,” says Morgan. “Caregiving also triggers lots of emotions, but you shouldn’t feel guilty about them.”

    More important tips for caregivers:

    • Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s health condition.
    • Learn how to communicate with your loved one’s physician.
    • Don’t neglect your health to take care of others.
    • Maintain healthy sleeping and eating habits.
    • Don’t try to do everything yourself.
    • Know your limits and ask for help when you need it.
    • Get all of your family members involved with providing care.
    • Seek respite or backup support when needed.
    • Obtain a support system and get support from other caregivers.
    • Caregiving triggers a lot of emotions, but you shouldn’t feel guilty about your feelings.
    • Get support from other caregivers
    • Remember to reward yourself

    “Taking care of others can be very demanding and stressful,” Morgan says. “Caregivers shouldn’t hesitate to seek outside help when they’re feeling overwhelmed or have feelings of depression.”

Ask our experts your health question(s).